Russell Hebets June 1, 2017

This past Memorial Day, Tiger woods was arrested. No, this brush with the law had nothing to do with an angry wife chasing him with golf clubs. This arrest stemmed from allegations of drugged driving. Tiger was found asleep (or passed out, depending on who you ask) in his car early Monday morning. His car had 2 flat tires, with damage to both the front and rear bumper. When law enforcement officers in Jupiter, Florida, woke him, he initially thought he was outside of Los Angeles, California. He had very slow, slurred speech, and failed roadside sobriety tests. With these facts many people would assume that he was drunk. Many people would be wrong, because many people are unaware of the opiate epidemic sweeping through America.

Opiates in America

We recently blogged on this opioid epidemic along with possible solutions, but it still remains a largely quiet but growing killer in America. Opiates are a class of drug which includes Heroine and Fentanyl (which Prince over-dosed from). It also includes ubiquitous painkillers such as Vicodin and Percocet. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, there were an estimated 26.4 to 36 million opiate abusers worldwide in 2014, and those number have only been climbing since that time. Since 1999 the number of prescription opiates sold has nearly quadrupled. According to the Centers for Disease Control, every day 44 people in America die from an Opioid overdose.

These prescriptions are largely given to treat pain after medical procedures such as the fourth back surgery that Tiger Woods underwent last month. While it is too early to say that Tiger has an opiate addiction, this incident certainly points in that direction. If that is the case, it would hardly be unique in the sporting world, with superstars ranging from Brett Favre who famously admitted to taking 15 Vicodin at a time, to NHL enforcer Derek Boogaard who died from an overdosed of Oxycodone and alcohol in 2011.

Opiates and Driving Under The Influence

Prescription drugs occupy a very specific place in the minds of Americans. They are similar to alcohol in that they are legal so long as you are not under the influence of them when driving. However, many people do not make that association. The harms of driving under the influence have been beaten into the collective psyche of America for generations. Nearly everyone has heard the public service campaign “drink, drive, go to jail.” Not so with prescription drugs. If your doctor is telling you to take them, they must be safe, right? Unfortunately, that thinking is dead wrong.

Driving under the influence of drugs, including prescription opiates, are illegal just as driving under the influence of alcohol is illegal. In Colorado and in most states, people charged with driving under the influence of drugs face identical consequences to those charged with an alcohol related DUI. Officers can require a suspect to take a blood test rather than a breath test if they suspect drugged driving, and people are routinely convicted of these offenses.

While we don’t know the details of Tiger’s case, the initial news coming from the police reports does not look good for him. If he does have an opiate addiction, an intensive treatment program is likely his best bet to minimize his repercussions and move on with his life in a positive way.